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On making lists

The practice has its earthly and spiritual benefits

On making lists


I’m a great believer in making lists. This is partly because I have a poor memory, and also because I think it is a good practice of a well-ordered life. My husband doesn’t make lists. Just saying.

I have a list on the refrigerator for groceries, with an asterisk near items not found at Aldi’s: faucet filter at O’Neil’s; mattress cover at Ambler medical supplies. I have a list on the counter for the day’s tasks that I wrote the night before: Bring broken microwave to township recyclables; take hamburger out of freezer; read book on Six-Day War; write essay; tell David I love him. 

My kitchen calendar functions as a kind of list. It has people’s birthdays in red, and in regular ink the sundry commitments: Dad to foot doc; sympathy card for the Cnossens; Trans Wellness Conference downtown. Last year I perused the box of calendars saved in the attic since 1985, hoping to jog my memory of the children’s childhood, but they were not very elucidating. Common entries: “J. to soccer,” “dog to vet.”

I have tried to convert my husband to making lists but it’s evidently not his thing. He says it’s because he’s an ISTP, with borderline “S” and “P” scores, while I’m a strong ISTJ. That will mean something to Myers-Briggs personality test aficionados. For others, the gist is that I’m task-oriented while he’s a free spirit or something, I don’t remember exactly.

My mother was not warm (as I learned only as an adult from comparing notes with friends), but she made lists! Which put me in good standing for adulthood. If I had to choose only one of the two above-mentioned traits in a person raising me, I would be hard-pressed to forfeit the trait of organization for a little extra warmth. I turned out alright. … Didn’t I? (Insert Gary Larson cartoon of deranged three-eyed monster here.)

Once in middle age I said to my mother, “Ma, do you realize that all my life you have asked me to remind you to do this or that—pick up milk, mend a sock—and I have never once done it?” “It’s OK,” she consoled. “Just saying it out loud helped me remember—plus I make lists.”

There are certain kinds of lists God solemnly proscribes—to wit, the collecting of other people’s sins against us. Sometimes when we are aggrieved and inclined to inflict pain, we may find ourselves mentally building a case against the offending party. If that offending party is a sister or husband, we may have amassed a lengthy scroll: “You slept on the train the whole way from Seoul to Pusan on our wedding day and left me to ponder the wisdom of what I had just agreed to.”

This kind of list-making has to cease and desist, if for none other than the practical reason that the fellow human in your personal defendant’s cage may have gathered a list of his own even thicker than yours, and more importantly that the ledger in heaven with your name on it may far outweigh your petty gripes (Matthew 18:21-35). There is no getting around the plain English of the following: “If you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:15).

“Confess all known sin; get rid of everything doubtful; obey the Spirit immediately; proclaim Christ publicly.”

The best list I ever drew up was one day when I got so fed up with a defeated area in my life that I sat down and wrote the specific sins on paper; then brutally examined my heart for what desires were being frustrated (James 4:1); then brainstormed the Bible for what it prescribed on the subject, and jotted the verses. I drove with the paper to the cemetery, located the most remote spot, knelt down, spread the sheet on the ground before God, raised hands upward, and confessed them, seeking forgiveness. I followed this with concrete resolutions to God (Psalm 116:18) to not persist in these sins, by the dearly purchased grace of Christ.

I like the short list Evan Roberts went around Wales exhorting Welshmen to in the 1904 Revival: “Confess all known sin; get rid of everything doubtful; obey the Spirit immediately; proclaim Christ publicly.”

Hard to improve on a list like that.


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  • Dadjustice
    Posted: Sun, 09/08/2019 06:15 pm

    After all these years of delightful reading of Andrea Seu Peterson, I now realize why I’ve enjoyed all these musings!  I have a Gary Larson cartoon posted near my desk of a spider looking at his just finished, yet completely disproportionate mess of a web saying, “Whoa, that can’t be right!” 

    My desk is “never” without that paper pad with my daily to-do list; my computer opens first thing every day to an excel list of daily Bible and devotional readings; and it doesn’t end there with my day timer lists I carry with me, my iPhone note pad prayer list, and appointment calendar. Yes, and amen “On making lists!”